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Archive for the ‘Corporate skewering’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE GOOD ONES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #87 (September 29, 2020).

I love when a music critic, like Bob Boilen, picks an album for his top ten lists that (I assume) no one else has heard.  So it’s no surprise to learn that 

In 2019, The Good Ones’ album RWANDA, you should be loved was one of my top 10 albums. They were to play a Tiny Desk concert in May of this year, but the world had other plans.

The blurb continues, “this is the tiniest of Tiny Desk (home) concerts, a single song.”  The song “Soccer (Summer 1988)” is simple, with a pretty guitar melody and wonderful harmonies.  But read what they’ve been through.

Adrien Kazigira and Janvier Havugimana know endless hardships. The night before this recording was made, a flood in Rwanda killed more than a dozen people and destroyed homes. Muddied water was more than waist high in Janvier’s one-room hut. That next morning, Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan and photographer Marilena Umuhoza Delli showed up to record the duo; she had the camera and he handled the audio. And though Janvier had been up all night dealing with the mud, they all took a two-hour drive to Adrien’s hilltop farm. Janvier tapped out the rhythm with a key on a thermos; the jug was filled with milk — milk from a cow Adrien was able to purchase courtesy of a 2019 U.S. tour.

The performance is a song they’d just learned to play together: “Soccer (Summer 1988).” It’s a nostalgic tune of a favorite soccer team, Rayon Sports F.C., from the days before the genocide in Rwanda took too many lives nearly a quarter of a century ago. Support means a great deal to these people, and if you like what you hear, their Bandcamp page is a good way to help The Good Ones.

It’s worth checking out their page to hear what they sound like when their world hasn’t just been turned upside down.

[READ: September 24, 2020] The Space Merchants [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes that it is one of her all time favorite books

Imagine a tongue-in-cheek spin on Mad Men, but set in a future when corporations have largely taken the place of governments.  …  This is mind-boggling in the number of predictions it gets right about the effects technological developments have had on capitalism over the past fifty years.

I also loved this story, or at least this excerpt, and will absolutely read the whole story to see what happens.

As it opens, we meet the narrator heading to work at Fowler Schocken Associates.  The company is a very successful advertising firm, headed by Fowler Schocken.  

As their meeting starts Fowler wonders aloud if they are getting soft.  The room is full of yes-men, but they are also correct.  They have not been getting soft.  They just secured the Coffiest account (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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30SOUNDTRACK: TANYA TAGAQ-Toothsayer EP (2019).

toothEarlier this year, Tanya Tagaq released a five-song EP to accompany the British National Maritime Museum’s “Polar Worlds” exhibit.

Tagaq’s music doesn’t radially change from release to release but she does vary things quite a bit within the style she creates.

This album feel more electronic than organic.  It’s full of drones and pulsing sounds.

“Icebreaker” opens with a low rumbling drone joined by a pulsing drum beat.  Then her heavy breathing/growling enters and she moved between guttural throat singing and high squeals.  A vocal melody appears around 2 and a half minutes but it is quickly swallowed by the main pulsing rhythm.

Tagaq uses katajjaq which Pitchfork explains is the vocal game traditionally played among Inuit women while men are away hunting. It involves two women standing face to face, exchanging repetitive vocal motifs until one fails to keep the pattern going. In older recordings of katajjaq, it’s easy to sense just how entertaining they were: Many games end with laughter.

When Tagaq does katajjaq she is solo (and not laughing).

 “Snowblind” is next.  with slow pulsing synths (from the Iranian-British electronic musician Ash Koosha) and a delicate piano as she sings a gentle wordless melody. The piano starts to pick up half way through and the low note grow more ominous as her voice grows more urgent.

“Toothsayer” features guttural breathing underneath while her voice soars above.  Midway through, it resolves into some gentle voices and an harsh stabbing guitar solo.

The most exciting track to me is “Submerged,” her katajjaq is delivered over what sounds like Inuit drumming, but Inuit drumming underwater–echoing and slightly underwater sounding.  Deep, slow clicking and heavy gasping breaths make up most of the song until about three minuets when a chord comes crashing in and her voice soars like a scream.  The pulsing continues and her voice sounds more ragged.  As it reaches its climax so does her voice shrieking louder and higher louder and higher until it abruptly ends.

The disc ends with the prettiest song, “Hypothermia.”  It is a quieter song, awash with keyboards.  Her voice soars like a siren.  Like the feeling of hypothermia, you are lulled by beauty when really your body is shutting down.

In “Hypothermia,” her katajjaq takes on the desperate cadence of someone panting, while the crystalline harmonies of “Snowblind” are both a vivid evocation of landscape and a bittersweet expression of pain—the pain of knowing that this could all be gone.

[READ: December 30, 2019] “I Can Speak!™”

The end of the year issue is called the Cartoon Takeover: A Semi-Archival Issue.  So there’s a lot of cartoons, but there’s also some old stories. Like this one.

This was originally published in the January 14, 1999 issue of the New Yorker.  I’ve now read it a few times, but it has been a while and I enjoyed it more this time than any other time.

The story is actually a letter to a customer unsatisfied with her I Can Speak!.  The customer service rep from KidLuv says he is on his lunch break–that’s how much he cares about her satisfaction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: IGOR LEVIT-Tiny Desk Concert #914 (November 22, 2019).

Igor Levit is a 32 year-old Russian-born pianist.  I really don’t know anything about him, although the blurb implies that he plays Beethoven and little else.  It says that he

has been playing the German composer’s music for half his life. He recently released a box set of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and once again he’ll be performing complete cycles of the sonatas in various cities to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020.

Most of us know many Beethoven pieces whether we realize it or not.  And, of course most of us know them by their “nickname” rather than their full name.  So when you see “Piano Sonata No. 14 ‘Moonlight,’ I. Adagio sostenuto” it’s easy to forget that that means “Moonlight Sonata,” the beautiful piece that is familiar with the very first notes.

Levit’s “Moonlight” emphasized the mesmerizing qualities in the music, with its oscillating pulse, smoldering low end and tolling bells.

After saying that “Moonlight” seemed like a good beginning to a Tiny Desk, he says he’s about to disrupt the situation as much and as hard as he can with anther sonata–this one a little bit earlier.  This one has no nickname, no title, no marketing gag, nothing.  Just G major sonata (officially “Piano Sonata No. 10, II. Andante”).

Levit says that this it is one of the funniest, wittiest pieces that Beethoven ever wrote. And…wait til the end.

The second piece proved Beethoven wasn’t always the grumpy guy he’s made out to be. His sly sense of humor percolates through the set of variations in a jaunty march rhythm, punctuated with a final, ironic, thundering chord.

After this, he returns to the familiar with “Bagatelle in A minor, ‘Fur Elise'”  Everyone knows ‘Fur Elise’ from the moment it starts.  Levit even jokes about playing it:

Sure, it’s a “total eye-roller,” Levit admits, but he also describes it as “one of the most beautiful treasures in the piano literature.”

He says people argue whether it was Beethoven’s piece–he thinks it is.

His playing is beautiful–I love that you can hear everything so distinctly.  He makes the familiar songs sound vibrant and alive.  And the unfamiliar piece (while not rolling-in-the-aisles funny or anything like that) does have little moments that will induce a smile.  He is also quite subtle in “Für Elise”–not emphasizing the most familiar parts.

Although many people have performed Beethoven over the years, I would absolutely look for his name if I wanted to hear a great performance.

 [READ: August 2019] American Housewife

This book had been sitting around our house for a few years.  I feel like I saw the cover of the woman on the toilet doing her nails every time I went into the spare room.  Then a TV show came out called American Housewife.  I knew that Sarah Dunn, the creator of the show, had written novels, but I had forgotten her name.  So I assumed that this book was the basis for the show.  Whatever the case, this book has nothing to do with the TV show.

This book is a collection of very short pieces and somewhat longer pieces.

Generally speaking, I found the shorter pieces a lot less funny as they seemed more like bullet point lists than actual jokes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FRENCH, FRITH, KAISER, THOMPSON-“Bird in God’s Garden/Lost and Found” (1987).

The words are a poem by Rumi.   It is a slow droney song that is primarily drums from John French.  Thompson sings in his quieter style.

There are several different versions of this song. There’s an earlier unreleased version with Richard & Linda Thompson that is much quieter.  I especially like this version because after every other verse they brighten things up with a dramatic five note string riff (or maybe it’s Kaiser on the sanshin) that seems to come out of nowhere.

They spice up the middle of the song with a rollicking traditional Irish sounding fiddle melody from Fred Frith’s “Lost and Found.”  (Frith plays violin).  It adds a bit of zing to an otherwise dirgey song.

After about three minutes of the slow thumping there’s a wonderfully rocking instrumental section complete with fiddles and bass playing some wild melodies.

It was recorded on the album Live, Love, Larf and Loaf and also appears on Thompson’s collection Watching the Dark (1993).

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Nell Zink’s Satire Raises the Stakes”

I have really enjoyed the Nell Zink books that I’ve read. I’ve even read an excerpt from Doxology, the book that’s reviewed in this essay.

What I like about this essay though is the summations of her writing and her earlier books.

Schwartz says that Zink looks at life from the fringes.  She then summarizes her three impossible to summarize books in simple and amusing fashion: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANNE BOURNE-“Evangeline” (Moose: The Compilation, 1991).

Back in the 1990s, it was common to buy a compilation or soundtrack or even a band’s album based on one song.  Only to then find that you didn’t really like anything else on it.

Maybe that single sounded like nothing else on the album.  Maybe the movie was almost entirely one genre, but they had that one song that you liked over the credits.  Or maybe the compilation was for something but a song you really wanted was on it, too.

With streaming music that need not happen anymore.  Except in this case.

I bought this compilation, used, recently exclusively for one song, Rheostatics’ “Woodstuck.”  It’s a goofy song and this is the only place you can get the studio version.  The actual compilation was not well documented, so I didn’t know what the other bands on it might sound like.  It turns out to be a compilation for Ontario based Moose Records which specialized in Rock, Folk, World & Country.  They put out another compilation in 1992 and that’s all I can find out about them.

This is one of my favorite songs on this record (that’s not the Rheostatics song).  The song is deep and low with a cool rumbling bass and drum pattern.  Anne Bourne’s voice is deep and intense and generates a wonderful slow burn.

Maybe I like it because Don Kerr, a future Rheostatic, plays cello on it.

Interestingly, there is an Anne Bourne who is a Canadian cello player. I have to assume it’s the same person, but it’s very hard to tell.  If it is, she has played on a huge number of great Canadian albums by Cowboy Junkies, Ron Sexsmith, Sloan, Jane Siberry and Loreena McKennit.

[READ: July 29, 2019] “The Little King”

Salman Rushdie obviously has a reputation as being a cryptic writer who is hard to read–deserved from The Satanic Verses, but otherwise rather unfounded.  Especially when you read a story like this.

This two-pronged story is about two men, distantly related, who couldn’t be more different.  The first man that we meet is obsessed (like really obsessed) with the Indian talk show host Salma R.  The other man is Dr. R.K. Smile, the world-renowned creator of a tremendous pain reliever called InSmile.

The first man had no real friends.  The only thing he wanted to do was obsess over Salma R.  He had never met her but he characterized what they had as love.  He even christened himself Quichotte for Don Quichotte and resolved to be her beloved knight-errant.  Everyone who heard of his plans tried to dissuade him–even people he friended on Facebook told him it was terrible idea.   And this is where Rushdie proves that he is not a snobby writer

In response to his posts there were frown emojis and Bitmojis wagging fingers at him reprovingly and there were GIFs of Salma R. herself crossing her eyes, sticking out her tongue and rotating a finger by her right temple all of which added up to the universally recognized set of gestures meaning “cray cray.”

Quichotte worked in pharmaceutical sales for his wealthy cousin, the very R. K. Smile mentioned above.  Dr. Smile was hugely successful and although he knew that Quichotte was a terrible employee, he felt that it was his duty to protect this layabout–lest he turn into a Willy Loman character.  Since R.K. Smile’s business had recently taken off in a massive way–he was now officially a billionaire–he could easily afford to have an unproductive relative as an employee. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-Loose Canon: Live in Europe 2016-2017 (2018).

I loved The Divine Comedy at the turn of the century (the fin de siècle, if you will).  They were one of my favorite bands.

Since then Neil Hannon (the man behind the band) has released a few albums which I have liked–but none as much as those early records.

This recording is primarily his latter songs, and as such isn’t as exciting to me.  (Although setlists from the tour shows that he played a lot of older songs as well, so this disc is mostly a latter period recording).

The first three songs are from the newest album Foreverland: “How Can You Leave Me On My Own,” “Napoleon Complex” and “Catherine the Great.”  And among the next few songs are “To the Rescue” and “Funny Peculiar.”   So that’s five in all from that album.

The previous album Bang Goes the Knighthood accounts for five more songs “The Complete Banker,” “Bang Goes The Knighthood,” “At The Indie Disco,” “Assume The Perpendicular” and “I Like.”

So that’s ten of seventeen from the two latest albums.

After listening to it a few times I have come to appreciate his newer music even more and to see that it is equally as cleverly crafted.  He’s just a different person now with different lyrical and musical ideas.  I will certainly give a re-listen to the last decade;s worth of music.

“How Can” is fun a bouncy, “Napoleon” is snarky and witty.  “Funny Peculiar” is a duet with  guest vocals from Lisa O’Neill.  She has a fascinating singing style which is kind of peculiar in its own way.

“The Complete Banker” is wonderfully sarcastic and catchy and “I Like” is so simple and delightful.  “Assume the Perpendicular” is an other fun uptempo song, but of this batch its “Indie Disco” that is the real highlight (this includes an excerpt from New Order’s Blue Monday”).

It also sounds like this was a fun souvenir for anyone who saw the tour (he dressed up as Napoleon and others, and apparently “Indie Disco” was really fun live).  I have always wanted to see them and hold them high on my list of bands to see.  But he hasn’t been to the States in almost ten years, so I don’t have high hopes to experience them live.

The band for The Divine Comedy’s live shows has changed over the years, sometimes large and orchestral or, like this tour, a simpler five-piece.  They sound good although they do underplay the orchestral quality of the music.

Going back there’s one from Victory for the Comic Muse “A Lady Of A Certain Age” and one from Absent Friends “Our Mutual Friend.”  These two songs are lovely and quite poignant, especially “Lady.”  They are a far cry from the raucous songs of old.

The first older song is from 2001’s Regenertaion with a wild and fun rendition of “Bad Ambassador.”  His voice doesn;t sound great on this song.  I’m not sure if he ever sounded great live, but he certainly underplays some of the bigger moments in the song.

The crowd really gets pumping for Fin de Siècle‘s “Generation Sex” and “National Express.”  These two songs are a lot of fun and I imagine mus t be really rousing live.  Once again he doesn’t sound great. Not that he has lost his voice but almost like he;s not trying all that hard.

The disc is collected from shows all over Europe, so its interesting if they picked songs where he doesn’t sound that great.

It’s not until the encores that he brings out two really old songs 1994’s “A Drinking Song” and “Tonight We Fly.”

I’m sure they picked this particular version of “A Drinking Song” because he admits to being quite drunk himself.  And there’s a funny moment where he gets a hair caught in his throat.  “Is it yours?”  Indeed, his banter with the audience is a highlight.  He is clearly a good showman, and perhaps that makes up for some of the shortcomings of the disc.  This song is a good example.  His voice is much louder than the instruments and, frankly, he doesn’t sound that great as what is mostly a capella–but the overall presentation is fun.

The ending “Tonight We Fly” is a treat as well.  Again, he doesn’t sound perfect, but he sounds like he’s having fun.

I feel like this makes me want to see them a little less–except that it sounds like the performance is great even if his voice isn’t anymore.  Regardless, is he ever comes back to the States, I’ll be there for sure.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “The People Who Kept Everything”

I read this novel 7 years ago.  But since I’ve been going back through old Harper’s and found this excerpt I thought it would be worth reading (the excerpt) again.  And I really enjoyed it, I had forgotten about this scene until the end of the piece.

The narrator says that on the night before he left for college his father gave him a Spanish dueling knife and told him to keep it and never lose it.

When the narrator asks his father where he got it he says he’d better not say–he could tell him he won it in a card game in El Paso or a cathouse in Brownsville.

He kept the knife in a drawer and it moved with him to every location her went–dorm rooms, apartments.  Often it was in the kitchen with the cutlery, ignored by everyone except the new girlfriend who wanted to cook something. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ZEUS-Live at Massey Hall (September 11, 2015).

I had never heard of the Canadian band Zeus.  They seem pretty well-known (and have since become the backing band for Jason Collett when he’s not doing Broken Social Scene).

The band has been active for nearly a decade, but have only released a couple of albums (it is mentioned during the set that they are working on new material, but that was three years ago).

They talk about the amazing sound in Massey Hall.

Massey Hall is the furthest from a giant gnarly arena you can get.  We’ve played places with similar capacity and similar sound but there is something different here.  It sound really good and clean.  Maybe I would be intimidated if I played on this stage but you remember that not just anybody gets to pay here–you get asked to play here. This takes some of the onus off of being intimidated–you feel important in here.

Carlin says, “You never wanna say you had a shitty show at Massey Hall.  But you can hear yourself really well here, maybe that’s why they are all so good.  There’s always legendary shows there.

Everyone in the band switches instruments throughout.  It’s hard to keep track of what everyone is doing.  The only one who doesn’t move is Mr Robert Anthony Drake on the drums.

“Come Home” starts with a Carlin Nicholson on bass and Mike O’Brien on the electric guitar.  They share a microphone and the harmonies.  Neil Quinn is on acoustic guitar off to the side. adding a third voice.  It’s a surprisingly short song.

“Where is My Love” has Neil, still on acoustic, singing lead with his deep voice and an occasional falsetto on certain notes.  This song is quiet for the beginning with just the acoustic guitar and keys before the rest of the band kicks in.  The song shifts gear and musically sounds like a slower Sloan song (whom they were paired with that night) but the vocals are quite different.  Mike has shifted to keys with Carlin still on bass.  Jason Haberman is also playing multiple instruments–he’s on guitar for this one.

“Miss My Friends” has a kind of funky, almost disco rhythm.  Carlin has switched to keyboards and Mike O’Brien is on bass where he sings lead vocals.  Neil Quinn plays electric guitar and c Habermans has switched to electronic percussion.

Carlin introduces the next song, “This goes back to the very first Zeus record, “I Know.”  It’s got Carlin on keys and lead vocals. Neil on bass, Mike on guitar and Haberman on acoustic guitar.  Carlin invited people to sing is they know it but I can’t hear of anyone does.

Neil shifts to a pretty melody on the keys with a gorgeous intertwining melody from Mike.  It’s a great opening to “Heavy on Me.”  There’s cool 70’s sounding keyboards and a great bass rumble.  There’s a lot of quieter moments where the bass is all there is and the riff is cool and slinky.  The song ends with great jamming session with a noisy rocking guitar solo and heavy drums.

After the applause, Neil says, “Thank you.  This is just what this band needs right now–a house fill of love like this.”

“Air I Walk” has a shuffling beat with (questionable) electronic percussion hits.  Carlin back  bass with Neil on acoustic guitars and lead vocals.  It sound kind of mid 8os Dire Straits

“Throwdown” doesn’t sound like a throw down as it opens.  There’s quiet guitars and gentle vocals from Mike.  But it gets really big by the middle and sounds like a non-synthy 80s classic rock songs.

The show ends with “Are You Gonna Waste My Time.”  Just like the opening, Neil is on guitar and vocals, Mike plays a great lead guitar and Carlin is on bass.

I really enjoyed this set quite a lot.  Zeus is a little soft rock for my tastes, but their musicianship and songwriting is top notch.

[READ: May 21, 2018] “Seven Years of Identity Theft”

Rick Moody had his identity stolen.  We all hear about this happening, but he really shows you how much of a real pain in the ass it is.  It’s not just a matter of getting new credit cards.

This essay is written as a series of letters.

The first letter is to the Most Honorable President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.  He writes of leaving his bank card in an ATM in Macon, Georgia and that’s when he assumes it all started–the theft of his identity–back in 2011.

A week later his replacement card was rejected and ultimately deactivated due to fraudulent transactions. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2015 Tour Box (2015).

The Elements box set has become a tour staple since the band reformed in 2014.  This is the second set and it contains another fascinating cross section of music from throughout Crimson’s existence.

In addition to the music, these sets contain a booklet that is chock full of pictures and usually an essay that gives context to what you’re about to hear.

It also includes the seven Principles of King Crimson

  1. May King Crimson bring joy to us all. Including me.
  2. If you don’t want to play a part, that’s fine!
  3. Give it to someone else – there’s enough of us.All the music is new, whenever it was written.
  4. If you don’t know your note, hit C#.
  5. If you don’t the time, play in 5. Or 7.
  6. If you don’t know what to play, get more gear.
  7. If you still don’t know what to play, play nothing.

Of the four boxes, I think this is my favorite–although the second disc of 2017 is pretty awesome.  I really enjoy the first half of the first disc.  It’s all instrumental (even tracks that have words are instrumental versions).  It’s a great collection of  sometimes pretty, sometimes not, 70s prog rock.

The eight-minute instrumental version of “Epitaph” (Steven Wilson 2015 instrumental mix) is gorgeous.  Even though I like the words just fine, there’s something really thrilling about removing them on this song.  “Catfood” is (somewhat obviously) a rather goofy lyric, so hearing this complex song without words is also a treat.  “Bolero – The Peacock’s Tale” is listed as a Tony Levin overdub.  I don’t know exactly what that means, as it is taken from the Lizard recording sessions, but the song is lovely.

In addition to longer, complete songs, the Elements sets feature short snippets.  Like the two-minute extract of “Islands” (with oboe).  Or the four-minute jazzy “A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls” which is clearly the foundation for “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic.”

Although the set is largely chronological, there’s an excerpt from the 2014 tour rehearsals in which Fripp discusses how the band knows all of their parts.  They give a mellow example of how he and Jakko will play “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II)” which is followed by the full 6 minute version from 1974.  It’s followed by an 11 minute live version of “Fracture” from 1974 (the previous box’s version was from 1973).

There’s a “guitar extract” of “One More Red Nightmare” (less than a minute long)  from 1974 followed by a full performance of the song from 2014 which doesn’t feel like a jump of forty years in any way.

The disc jumps to the 1980s era with an extended remix of “Elephant Talk” followed by 1981’s “Absent Lovers.”

1983’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III/Sleepless” is staggeringly good.

Disc Two suffers a bit in comparison, which I find surprising as I really like the later era of King Crimson–the more metal sounding stuff is really intense.

I enjoyed the first part–the late 1990s; work.  “Jurassic THRAK” sounds huge, and 2014’s drum solo “The Hell Hounds of Krim” works fine as a connector to the next four songs which highlight the late 90’s abrasive guitars.  It’s about 20 minutes of noisy coolness. “VROOOM,” “Coda: Marine 475” and “ProjeKction” (Performed by ProjeKct Four) all showcase that complicated music really delightfully.

Then things start to slow down somewhat. “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic – Part IV/the construKction of light” suffers in my mind because of the smallness of the band.  With only four members playing, the song doesn’t feel like a huge organism, it feels more like two guitarists playing next to each other.  Mind you, it sounds amazing if you can get away from the fact that it doesn’t feel terribly “full.”  Of course, I may be just spoiled from the great versions of LTIA I’ve seen with the 7-piece band.

Things really slow down and chill out for “Sus-Tayn-Z” (Performed by ProjeKct X), “Power to Believe,” “Ex Uno Patres” and the nine minute exceedingly mellow (with vocals) “The Light of Day.”  I do not love this style of Crimson.  It works as a palette cleanser between heavy songs, but too much is too much.

The “Ba Ba Boom Boom” drum solo and “ATTAKcATHRAK” ramp things up with the kind of noise that segues nicely into the blistering 2014 version of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

This box set once again demonstrates that King Crimson is a multi-headed beast, liable to go in any direction at any time.

[READ: January 6, 2018] Heroes of the Frontier

Somehow I missed that Eggers had written this book. I saw it in the bookstore recently and immediately grabbed it and devoured it.

I was worried that it was going to be a woman-moves-off-the-grid-and-life-gets-better story, but it’s not that at all.  It’s far more complicated and a bit more unsettling.

Josie is a dentist in Ohio.  But as we meet her, she and her children are riding in a crappy rented RV through the highways of Alaska.

Josie has a large sum of cash with her.  She had been sued by a patient for a sum she could not afford.  Rather than trying to raise th e money to save her practice or giving it over to woman, she sold her practice in total to a dentist friend.  So now, she has the cash and, temporarily, no future.

She was also in a terrible relationship.  Her children’s father, Carl, had taken off on them.  He was always aloof and a loser, but this disappearance to Florida was something else entirely.

She took her kids, Paul (8) and Ana (5) and got outta Dodge.  The children are an interesting pair.  Paul is nurturing and worrying, especially about his sister. He looks after her more closely than their mother ever does.  Ana, meanwhile, is a disaster–she seems to have a natural gift for how to break something–she can find the weak point of any structure or situation and cause havoc wherever she goes–and Paul is happy to fix the situation.

Why Alaska?  Because she has a stepsister (sort of) who lives in Homer.  Sam is independent and successful (which Josie was as well, although she was unhappy). (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: September 2017] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy complete radio series

The history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is almost as convoluted as the story itself.

Douglas Adams (with help from John Lloyd) wrote the radio story in 1977.  It aired in 1978.  A second season aired in 1980.

Adams wrote the novel based on the radio series in 1979.  And then the second book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in 1980.

Then they made the TV show.

Apparently Adams considered writing a third radio series to be based on Life, the Universe and Everything in 1993, but the project did not begin until after his death in 2001.  The third, fourth and fifth radio series were based on Life, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless which were transmitted in 2004 and 2005.

It’s interesting and a little disconcerting how different the radio play is from the story of the book. There are a lot of similarities of course, but some very large differences.

The first series obviously leaves a lot out from the book, since the book wasn’t written yet. (more…)

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